For as long as anyone can remember, young women have vanished into the woods. Believing them to be weak willed and lured by demons, the zealous Mayor enforces rules to protect them: rules that render the village women submissive and silent, or face being ostracised.
Emma’s only hope of a decent life is to be married by her eighteenth birthday, but her quick mouth and low social standing make her a poor prospect. Lonely and afraid, she finds herself dreaming of the woods, and of a mysterious boy who promises freedom and acceptance if she’ll only step across the border into the trees.
With her birthday fast approaching, she has a decision to make: run away from her future, or fight for it.
Maybe there's a way to get him to take it back before anyone finds out,' Mama frets, wringing her hands. The floorboards creak underneath her as she circles the table for the hundredth time. 'But one of those hateful women will still get wind of it and tell the whole village.'
'Can't we just say no?' I ask, watching Mama with concern. 'If you're so unhappy about going…'
'Don't be stupid Emma,' Mama snaps, and then looks sorry for it. 'The mayor asked me himself. What did you do to bring this on? Has Samuel spoken to you again?'
'Only last night, I bumped into him on the high street and he offered to walk me home. I said no, though.'
'That'll do it,' she grumbles, shaking her head.
'Why are you so upset, Mama?' I ask. 'Isn't this a good thing? Samuel will be the next mayor. Their house is so big you could have a whole floor to yourself!'
'You can compete with that sour girl for an irrelevant labourer's boy, you can't compete with the doctor's daughter for the mayor's son. He might be humouring Samuel now, but Mayor Jones will never approve of you.' She sighs. 'And I don't need a floor, Emma. I need you to be taken care of.'
'Then I'll be dull and rude and they won't invite me again,' I suggest, wanting to make her feel better but not really sure how.
'You can't!' she gasps.
'Mama,' I throw my hands up, exasperated. 'Tell me what you want me to do, then.'
She finally stands still and falls quiet for a long time.
'Forget Andrew,' she decides, her face setting with determination. 'We can't get out of this dinner unscathed. If you refuse, you'll offend the mayor, and Bill and Elise won't risk their son marrying someone who has done that. We'll go to this dinner, and we'll be perfect. If Samuel's taken a liking to you, you might have a chance.'
'But… Elise is coming on Wednesday.'
'We'll have to cancel.'
'Can't we just go to the dinner, give our apologies and go back to normal?'
Mama puts her hand on my cheek, smiling sadly. 'A girl in your situation doesn't get to court two boys. Like it or not, you're courting Samuel now.'
'But he didn't even ask me.'
'They never do. Put the dinner on, we'll talk more after.'
I fill a pot with fresh water. As I try to light the cooking fire, I see my hands are trembling. 'Mama?' I ask when I have the fire crackling.
'What is it?'
'Samuel seems like a nice person, doesn't he?'
'Yes, Emma. He's a very nice young man. With very good taste.'
Born in a desert town with less than 300 people, one TV channel and nothing to do, Ceinwen learned to entertain herself by reading and making up her own stories. The habit stuck, and she's been trying to make a living out of it ever since.
Ceinwen has worked in development on several local children's shows, taught and spoken at schools and universities and worked as a storyliner and scriptwriter for long-running soap Neighbours. The Edge of the Woods is her debut novel.